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Getting Vaccinated

February 3, 2015

I’ll be posting the next Sleeper Ave. story tomorrow. I was planning on running with a different tale, but the recent news about the current measles outbreak, the result of people refusing to let their kids be vaccinated, led me to substitute what I was going to post with tomorrow’s story about the polio epidemic.

Most of the opposition to vaccination today stems from a thoroughly debunked 1998 study implicating vaccines in autism. It turns out that the study relied on deliberately falsified data, and was hastily withdrawn by the discredited author. That didn’t prevent the urban myth that vaccinating kids is dangerous, that there is a dark cabal of doctors and drug companies imperiling your children’s health for nefarious reasons, from taking hold. There isn’t a credible medical professional in the land who advises against vaccinating children for dangerous childhood diseases like measles and whooping cough.

The reason for vaccinating as many people as possible is something called herd immunity. No vaccine is 100% effective, and the more people in a given population who are protected, the more all of us are, for obvious reasons. The fewer people who get sick, the less likelihood there is that the disease will spread. When the number of people who are vaccinated falls below a critical threshold, a disease like measles can take hold. We see this often in communities like Boulder, Colorado, where the anti-vaccine movement has taken hold, and where every year preventable illnesses needlessly sicken scores of children.

In the 1950s, the scourge of polio struck terror in every parent. When Dr. Jonas Salk perfected the first effective vaccine, a campaign of mass inoculation was instituted, with spectacular results. Within just a few years, as almost everyone in America received the polio vaccine (which Salk provided for free; imagine a drug company doing that today!), the number of cases plummeted, and with the oral Sabin vaccine arriving a few years later, polio, the great crippler, was essentially eradicated.

Back then the Salk vaccine was considered a miracle, and there was little backlash to the public campaign for universal inoculation. But, just as today, there were some who refused to let their kids have the shot, for reasons just as illogical, and just as irresponsible.

But I’ll leave that for tomorrow’s story.